Victims’ Families|Sue ‘Affluenza’ Kid

     FORT WORTH (CN) – Five families have sued the parents and the teenager who was sentenced to probation after a controversial “affluenza” trial defense for a drunken-driving wreck that killed four people and injured nine.
     The five families of victims filed separate lawsuits against Ethan Couch, 16, in Tarrant County District Court.
     Couch was drunk and speeding when he drove over a crowd of people by the side of a road in south Fort Worth in June.
     Four people died, including mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell.
     Nine others were seriously injured.
     Couch was driving 70 mph in a 40 mph zone and his blood alcohol content was 0.24 at the time of the wreck, according to Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson: three times the legal limit of .08 for an adult.
     It is illegal for a minor to drive with any alcohol in his system.
     Defense psychologist Dr. G. Dick Miller testified at trial that Couch is a product of “affluenza”: that his family felt wealth bought privilege, so Couch saw no rational link between behavior and consequences.
     Miller testified that Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
     The five civil lawsuits also named as defendants Ethan’s parents, Fred and Tonya Couch, and Cleburne Sheet Metal, the family business. The plaintiffs say Ethan was driving a truck belonging to his father’s business when he killed and injured the 13 people.
     Eric Boyles and daughter Marguerite Boyles sued on Nov. 25. Eric is the husband of Hollie Boyles and father of Shelby Boyles. They accuse Fred Couch and his company of negligently entrusting a company truck “to an incompetent or reckless driver” that resulted in the death of their relatives.
     Maria Lemus and Sergio Moline sued on Sept. 6. They are the parents of Sergio Molina, who was riding in the bed when Couch’s drove its into four pedestrians and at least two cars before crashing into a tree, flipping and landing upside-down.
     “Sergio has been in a coma or vegetative state since the collision,” the complaint states. “Sergio has already had to undergo several surgeries to his brain and skull and may have to undergo additional brain surgeries in the future. He has also developed illnesses and infections and has been injured while he has been hospitalized.”
     Sergio’s medical bills have exceeded $600,000.
     Marla Mitchell sued on Sept. 30. Her daughter’s vehicle had broken down, so she pulled to the side of the road and some good Samaritans were helping her. Mitchell says she was near the crash site, talking to her daughter on the phone, when her daughter “suddenly stopped talking.”
     “Due to her proximity to the accident scene, plaintiff … arrived shortly thereafter and found her 24-years-old daughter dead on the ground,” the complaint states.
     Shaunna Jennings sued on behalf of her husband and three children on Sept. 24. She accused the Couches of failing to supervise their son, of letting him drive the truck “after he was convicted of being a minor in possession of alcohol and a minor in consumption of alcohol when he was only 15 years old, and just a few months before this catastrophic collision.”
     Kevin and Alseia McConnell sued on Oct. 30. Their son, Lucas, was riding with Jennings.
     Criticism of Couch’s light sentence and the “affluenza” – or spoiled brat – defense, has been great, with lawmakers across the state arguing for changes in the law. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who lost his father to a drunken driver when he was 3 years old, joined the chorus last week. He issued a directive to the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice to study sentencing of probation in intoxication manslaughter cases. “Having lost my own father to a drunk driver in my youth, I have a particular interest in this issue because I know the devastation it causes,” Dewhurst said in a statement.
     He asked the committee to make recommendations to insure “appropriate punishment levels.”

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